Why Growth Marketing Means Everything -- And Nothing

The following was previously published in an earlier edition of Marketing Insider:

If you’ve been anywhere near marketing or Silicon Valley or any of the metropolitan start-up hubs around the country in the past few years, you certainly cannot have escaped hearing the term “growth marketing” at least a few, or maybe even a thousand times.

Even the trade organization Association of National Advertisers has embraced growth marketing, adopting the tagline "We're All In On Driving Growth" and starting a CMO Masters Circle initiative called the CMO Growth Council.

I’ll offer an example. I was recently contacted by a start-up that is a centralized production platform environment for development, monitoring and deployment by data science teams. Do they need to grow? Of course. However, they brought up the potential need for growth marketing. 

Now, hold on a second. Their customers are large enterprise businesses/Fortune 500s and their decision-makers: CIOs, CDOs and CTOs. So, obviously a very small universe of potential targets. 



Steering them toward “growth marketing” in the way that most people think about it -- Google AdWords, search, social, display campaigns -- would be a total waste of their finite resources.

So why this persistent buzz around growth marketing from every corner of the marketing world? To find out, I recently ran a quick seven-question survey on the topic and received enough responses to make the results more or less statistically significant.

A few survey highlights to start:

  • Growth marketing is not going away any time soon – roughly 50% of respondents said it was a useful marketing discipline, with only 30% citing it as “simply a trendy term-of-the-moment” and 10% calling it “the future of digital marketing.”
  • Further, it’s gaining traction – brands, agencies and start-ups are employing growth marketing strategies 55% of the time, with only 5% stating they never use it.
  • It’s gaining traction, part 2 – 42.9% said they have added growth marketing to their mix, 7.1% said it has replaced less important tactics and 21.4% said it’s all they’re focused on. Only 28.6% said it’s had zero impact on marketing choices.
  • The spending is there – a full 90% of respondents claimed that growth marketing was between 1%-75% of their overall marketing budget.

Of course, when you allow people to draw outside the lines and offer their true opinions (versus simply answering multiple choice questions) is when you get to the real heart of the matter.

Despite many marketers using growth marketing many still recognized that in some ways it’s merely a rehash. In fact, several in this survey blatantly called it simply another name for demand generation, lead generation or performance marketing. In a lot of ways, they’re not wrong.

Soliciting comments also yielded a lot of honest opinions about what’s unfortunately really happening. One respondent wrote, "This seems to be the buzzword and what's replacing the skills of a CMO… (I) see ‘growth marketing’ touted all the time with Silicon Valley start-ups – anything to get those numbers fast and up to the right for investors and slideshows.” Ouch. Another said, “it's all anyone wants these days, measurable, quick results,” while another offered bluntly, “too many startups are OVER relying on it.”

So, what can be gleaned from these insights? I’m going with my initial premise – growth marketing is simultaneously everything and nothing. While it may seem like growth marketing is taking over the marketing universe, at the same time, it can be a bit of a false promise.

I like the way one respondent summed it up:  “Growth marketing is not new at all. The trend is actually to balance brand and growth. Many startups only use growth tactics, which leaves them without a brand.” Wise words.

3 comments about "Why Growth Marketing Means Everything -- And Nothing".
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  1. Ronald Kurtz from American Affluence Research Center, March 3, 2020 at 7:57 p.m.

    Is growth marketing a term used to distinguish its activities from marketing activities to maintain the status quo?

  2. JONATHAN GETTINGER from Mach49, March 4, 2020 at 7 p.m.

    I have found that one of the big benefits of "growth marketing" is that it has educated leaders on the importance of alignment between product, marketing and selling. As marketers we are often called upon to perform unnatural acts: covering for poorly positioned products or sales processes that don't match up with buying process. Growth marketing focuses on identifying and removing friction wherever in the journey it might be.

  3. Scott Lahde from ConduitWorks replied, March 4, 2020 at 7:25 p.m.

    Great point. Thx for the comment.

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